Your career started taking off when you were very young – what were the advantages and disadvantages of that?
I’m lucky to have started music at a young age – I like to believe that my playing facility is helped by starting young. I also believe that performing as a child helps me feel more comfortable in concerts now; I am especially grateful for this in the performances that are more challenging!
Susie Park. Photo supplied
How important were international competitions in launching your career outside Australia?
International competitions opened my eyes to the playing level of others, and also afforded me the opportunity to meet teachers and established performers around the world. I played in venues I’d only heard and dreamed about. I was exposed to the world of violinists and musicians I wouldn’t have met in Australia, at least not in such a concentrated fashion. There were conductors who were at competitions I did then who I still work with!
Your career has taken you around the world – what have been the most memorable moments for you?
I’ll never forget playing in the Musikverein as a freshman at Curtis. Knowing that Brahms and Mahler had been in that space floored me, and then the sound in the hall bowled me over. Playing Symphony under the Stars in the Sydney Domain with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as a teenager, and being interviewed onstage by the Oarsome Foursome, which made me more nervous than the playing bit, is also one I won’t forget. Playing in the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, South Africa with the Minnesota Orchestra last summer was awe inspiring. An incredible audience comprising the township residents, kids, the choir and all the other patrons singing together made the air electric that night. Playing the Manaus Opera House on the Amazon with what felt like 1000 percent humidity was also memorable – I don’t think my fingerboard has ever been as wet and slippery!
Your career has spanned solo performances, chamber music and orchestral playing – where do you feel most at home?
I love performing in all settings – solo, chamber music and orchestral, but, if I had to choose just one to do on the proverbial desert island, it would have to be chamber music. I love the intimacy of communicating with musicians in a smaller group setting – I believe it most accurately replicates the interactions we have with each other in all types of life relationships. The back and forth dialogue, the speed of banter, the spontaneity of an answer to a question posed or inflected differently in each performance night to night – I love that! And we don’t even use words!
I understand you also play jazz – what do you enjoy about that, and how does it complement your ‘classical’ career?
I’ve always valued freedom and spontaneity in performances, whether my own or from an audience perspective. Playing with jazz musicians heightened and deepened that value – I’m so inspired when in the presence of an artist who can create in the moment. I guess that inspiration is reflected most acutely in my love of chamber music – collaborating intimately with others and having a live dialogue.
You were appointed first associate concertmaster with the Minnesota Orchestra in 2015, what have been the highlights of that period?
It’s a privilege to be a part of the Minnesota Orchestra – we’re known for a “no diva” attitude and spirit, which has manifested most visibly in our international tours. I was on the Cuba tour in 2015, right after the embargo was lifted, and MinnOrch was the first orchestra to go at that time. I learned so much from the Cuban musicians and their unique musical sensibilities and rhythms! I also got to dance on stage with the Buena Vista Social Club! More recently we did a tour playing the London Proms at Royal Albert and five cities in South Africa. We were the first American orchestra to tour South Africa – we all got quite good at adapting to shifting schedules and getting changed into concert clothes behind wardrobe trunks!
What are you looking forward to most about your upcoming performances with Selby & Friends in Australia?
I always really look forward to working with Kathy – it’s guaranteed fun every time! The combination of playing great chamber music with great musicians, with being at home with the family and then on top of that, performing for the home audience is an experience I can’t have anywhere else, no matter where else I may travel. It’s a true privilege.
Susie Park performs in Selby & Friends’ The Game Changers, touring to the Southern Highlands, Turramurra, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, from August 31 to September 8